March 05, 2018
Music students rehearse

Students enjoy best of both worlds — individual musical instruction, and freedom to explore diverse academic subjects

Cellist Nathaniel Hoyt developed a passion for music when he was only 10 years old. So when it came time to choose a college, he knew he wanted a place where he could train in a supportive and conservatory-style environment. For him, the choice to attend Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music was a natural one.

“I love the D.C. location, and that I can see amazing concerts here,” he said. “I also like that this is a small music school compared to others. You know most of the faculty and the students here so it definitely feels like a personal experience.”

As a sophomore, Hoyt’s schedule revolves around his musical training. He takes cello lessons with Catholic University private instructor Amy Baumgarten and practices at least two hours every day. He meets twice a week to practice with the Catholic University Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra. And on the side, he plays with friends in a string quartet and sings in the Red Line a cappella group.

Earlier this year, Hoyt won the 2018 Catholic University Symphony Orchestra concerto competition. He will be performing the first movement of the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 with the symphony on April 28.

“It’s very important for any musician, if you’re going to make any progression at all, to practice at a consistent level every day,” Hoyt said. “Here, we get a lot of individual attention in all of our classes and a lot of attention on our improvement.”

Hoyt also appreciates the opportunity to take classes outside of the music school. This semester, he’s taking a class in Shakespeare. Previously, he’s studied theology and politics.

“Even if you are sure about your track in music, that’s a huge plus to explore other fields,” he said.

Learning about other subjects has also been a big plus for junior Aaron Mackisey, who is studying musical theatre. While most of Mackisey’s time is taken up with private voice lessons, music theory and dance classes, and required acting workshops, the junior has been able to explore another passion: history.

“I’m a history minor and I’m interested in teaching classical history, politics, and government,” Mackisey said. “Professor Jay Brock has been really wonderful about showing me ways that I can take my degree in musical theatre and apply it to history and politics.”

This semester, Mackisey was able to put both of his interests to work as the dramaturg for the music school’s production of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. After researching the life and times of our seventh president, Mackisey helped to put the play in historic and political context.

“It was great to apply my skills here and get this extra experience,” Mackisey said. “Isn’t that what everyone wants — work that makes you happy?”

Mingke Zhu, a senior piano major from the Hunan province of China, said she first learned about the music school after attending a piano workshop taught by Professor Ivo Kaltchev in China. She was so impressed by Kaltchev’s teaching methods that she decided to be his student.

Now that she’s here, she enjoys the close camaraderie between students and faculty.

“Our environment is very friendly and our students help each other,” she said. “Every day we feel very relaxed and happy, and that helps me practice and study very efficiently.”

Like Mackisey, Zhu has also been able to explore other academic areas of interest. In addition to her piano studies, she minors in math.

“The side of the brain used for math is so different than the side of the brain used for piano, so I find that it helps me relax,” she said.

Even within the music school, Zhu has enjoyed working with students from other divisions. Last spring, she worked with a friend in the composition division on a piano piece about the woods behind O’Boyle Hall, affectionately dubbed “The Forbidden Forest.”

“I like that we get to try a lot of different things here and that we’re not limited in our major,” Zhu said. “Even between different divisions, we are friends with each other.”

Zhu at piano